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The Revival of “Closed Country” Strategy: Japan’s Governance Tools in COVID-19


Sian Qin, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

This paper analyzes various tools associated with Japan’s “closed country” strategy in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. Building on concepts from authoritarian populism and the performance of crisis, it elaborates on how and why Japan’s closed-door strategy has become a core element in the country’s countermeasures against the pandemic. By deciphering the discursive framings that former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō applied in three decisive moments, we see that Japan’s approach to COVID-19 management was relatively soft when directed at the inside of the nation, and rigid when distancing that nation from physical interaction with the outside world. From the pandemic’s onset, ethnic others were portrayed as a risk for two intertwined reasons: First, Japanese governance relies on self-constraint rather than rules and sanctions, and the ethnic others’ compliance was not fully trusted. Second, this exclusionary strategy fed into populist discourses and was presumed to result in favorable support rates for the administration.